Staff writer

WATERVILLE — City officials want to ensure that if they sell the Old 470 Steam locomotive to New England Steam Co., the city can regain control over the engine if the company is not able to raise the money needed to restore it.

Councilors on Wednesday night voted 5—0 to sell the steam locomotive to New England Steam for $25,000 but emphasized they must take two more votes on the proposal and will discuss it further before doing so. As part of the agreement, the company would have two years to make payments.

The decision came after a lengthy discussion about what the company plans to do with the engine, how it would raise the $1.5 million to $1.75 million that company officials estimate will be needed to restore it and what would happen if it is not able to raise the money.

Some residents supported the idea of selling the locomotive to New England Steam. They said it has long been in disrepair and someone must restore the historic engine before it’s too late.

Others maintained it is part of the city’s heritage and should stay here.

“Maybe if we can keep it, then in five or 10 years we’ll get funding to do a restoration project,” said Chris Soucy, a contractor who lives in Winslow but whose company is in Waterville.

He said the city should paint the locomotive, put a fence around it and take more time to consider its options.

“Twenty-five thousand dollars is not a lot of money, and from a business point of view, 25 grand, I mean, you can’t even buy a car for that,” he said.

New England Steam President Richard Glueck said he and his volunteer group are knowlegeable about steam locomotives, have worked on them and know what is needed to restore the deteriorating engine, which is in rough shape on the outside but nearly pristine inside.

The group plans to move it to Ellsworth, restore it and use it for excursions on the Downeast Scenic Railroad in Ellsworth, he said.

It is an important piece of history and there is nothing like it in New England, according to Glueck, of Winterport.

“It is the last,” he said. “Leaving it where it is would assure its death.”

The engine, which sits on state-owned land off College Avenue, poses a liability to the city, as some people sleep in and under it and children play on it, he said. All it would take for disaster to occur is for someone to fall on it and slit a vein, he said.

“Then you will have a situation that no tender is going to rectify,” he said.

The city last year solicited proposals for ideas about how to restore the engine, and six groups from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Maine submitted proposals. New England Steam was the only one that promised to keep the engine in Maine, according to City Manager Michael Roy.

Councilor Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1; City Engineer Greg Brown; Parks and Recreation Director Matt Skehan; Belgrade resident Jack Sutton and Roy serve on a special committee working on the locomotive project.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Stubbert questioned New England Steam’s ability to raise the money needed to move and fix it and said the city should reach out to explore other options.

“My feeling on the whole thing is, this is a part of Waterville’s heritage. It should stay here at least part of the year,” Stubbert said.

Glueck said it could come back to Waterville during times it is not being used.

Glueck in 2004 spoke to the council about the need to restore the engine.

“It’s nine years later, and the locomotive is worse than it was then,” he said.

In February, officials from New England Steam, with permission from the city, opened up the locomotive.

“The interior of the locomotive is absolutely restorable,” Glueck said.

He also said his group would not disassemble it until it has enough money to complete the restorations.

“It will go to a safe home,” he said. “It will get the best care we can possibly afford.”

Glueck said he submitted a grant application Tuesday for $10,000 and plans to apply for others.

“We have a plan and we’re going to stick through it, Fred, we really are,” he told Stubbert.

Stubbert said he did not question the group’s motives.

“The question has to be money,” he said.

City Solicitor William Lee recommended that the city include in any agreement with New England Steam that if the company is not able to raise the needed funds, the city would regain control of the engine.

“I think you ought to keep that in mind when you think about what you want to do here,” Lee said.

Meanwhile, resident Heather Merrow supported the sale to New England Steam, saying the company does not yet have the funds to fix it, but neither does the city.

“If it sits there another winter, it’s going to rust some more,” she said.

In other matters Wednesday, the council voted to declare a vacancy in the Ward 6 council seat formerly held by Eliza Mathias, who resigned recently. City officials said residents interested in serving in the position must send written requests to the city clerk’s office by 5 p.m. Nov. 22 to be considered for the seat.

Roy announced that Brown, the city engineer, was named Employee of the Year at a recent city recognition dinner. He was chosen by his fellow employees.

Roy said Brown worked diligently on the new police station project, as well as on the Waterville Public Library, Opera House and City Hall renovations.

“Greg has been a key, key piece of all of those projects,” he said.

The council approved a contract with CATV, which tapes council meetings and airs them on Time Warner’s Channel 7. As part of the agreement, the city will pay a $50 increase per meeting for the service, from $125 to $175.

Councilors also voted to accept a $300,000 community development block grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development to help Bragdon Farms develop a hay log production business in the former Harris Baking Co. building. The council is expected to take two more votes on the issue.

Amy Calder — 861-9247[email protected]Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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